The Election A-Z is the latest book from the former political and industrial reporter Nicholas Jones. It promises a look back at the changes and great stories from the 14 general elections Jones has reported from and is his fifth book on modern politics. As a politics geek and general bubble enthusiast when I was offered a selection of ‘never told before’ political stories and insight from the frontline of political reporting, I got a little over-excited.
However, all in all it tries to achieve too much. One moment I was reliving horror stories from the 2015 Labour campaign and then at others the system of election deposits was explained to me at great length. A little trapped by its A-Z format, each chapter focused in on a different aspect of a general election campaign.
Some chapters drew directly on Jones’ experience and personal stories from political reporting on the campaign trail – such as the chapter on ‘battle buses’, detailing his time on the road following David Steel on Britain’s first battle bus in the 1979 election, and the unveiling of John Major’s travelling campaign headquarters in 1992. This side of election history, the never-ceasing logistical nightmare of organising gaffe-free constituency visits are the stories more often told between insiders, I really enjoyed.
However, these stories were few and far between when it came to the last two election campaigns that he does not appear to have been as close to. As a hardened Labour campaigner rereading that ‘Edstone’ happened only made me relive a torture I would rather leave behind. I really wanted to know who dragged it up that hill in Hastings and why, but sadly it did not feature! Overall, every chapter left me wanting a little more detail from an insider.
The best chapters were where he spoke from the breadth of his experience about the changing nature of the relationship between political reporting and party campaigns. This is where the book gave me something genuinely new.
In the chapter ‘J for journalists’ Jones describes the major changes in the relationship between campaign, journalist, party staffers, politicians and the news cycle. You follow him through campaigns from the 1960s onward as he explains the fluctuating power dynamics from the birth of the ‘spin doctor’, to the 24-hour news cycle and ‘citizen journalism’ – or, as we kids call it, social media.
In summary, the A-Z is a cumbersome format and Jones could clearly speak to some topics better than others. A good starter’s guide to the general election – no question – but perhaps a little light on the insider knowledge that politicos like me so desperately crave.
Emma O’Dwyer is a former Labour party organiser and former national chair of Labour Students. She tweets @Emma_O’Dwyer
The Election A-Z
Insights, Intrigue and Spin from 50 Years of Political Reporting
Urbane Publications Limited | 256pp | £12.99
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